Master collaborator Pam O’Connor talks about empowering brands, the “agent team concept,” and why technology is just a tool.
Pamela J. O’Connor serves as president and CEO of Chicago-based Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®, the largest global real estate network, with over 550 premier independent real estate firms, 4,600 offices and 140,000 associates producing $225 billion in annual home sales in over 30 countries. The company also owns RELO Direct®, a full-service relocation management company, and Luxury Portfolio International™, the fastest-growing luxury property website in the world.
Naturally, Pam has no shortage of experience: she was the first woman to head a major real estate network, and has managed real estate and relocation organizations for the past 28 years. Pam previously held marketing positions for WSB-TV in Atlanta and a major national real estate development firm, as well as co-owning Bryson-O’Connor Public Relations in Atlanta.
A frequent industry writer and speaker, Pam has been named one of the top 25 thought leaders by the National Association of Realtors, as well as one of the top 100 most influential people in real estate by Inman News for several years. Pam is a Senior Certified Relocation Professional (SCRP), and has served on the board of directors as vice president of Worldwide ERC, the professional association for employee mobility. She has received ERC’s Meritorious Award, President’s Award, and Distinguished Service Award, and was named to its Hall of Leaders in 2009, an honor bestowed on less than 100 of the association’s 10,000 members. She is also on the University of Tennessee College of Communications & Information Board of Visitors, a member the Corporate Relocation Council of Chicago, and an honorary lifetime member of the Metropolitan Atlanta Relocation Council.
Pam graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1972 with a degree in communications. Born in New York City and raised in the South, Pam lives with her husband, Tom, in the western suburbs of Chicago. Their daughter, Molly, is a student at Indiana University, where she played for the Hoosier women’s golf team.
Placester’s Seth Price caught up with Pam to get her thoughts on the industry, how she gets so much done, and what new agents should be focusing on.
Placester: What are you working on right now?
Pam O’Connor: Our 2012 annual conference, annual performance reviews, adoption and enhancements to our learning platform, and meetings with field-based staff.
Information is free, knowledge is priceless.
P: What does your typical day look like?
PO: When I’m in the office, I have meetings with staff, vendors, members, or potential business partners. When I’m traveling for presentations and conferences or visiting members, I work on various projects, proposals, communication, responding to issues, etc. on my laptop.
P: What is the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Once I got a summer job at an aeronautical engineering firm. I learned that I didn’t do well in that kind of a super-structured environment, that I needed something more entrepreneurial and creative.
P: Three real estate trends that excite you?
PO: 1. That we are slowly digging out of an unprecedented trough in the market.
2. That brokers seem to be focusing more on being selective in the hiring and productivity of agents and increased accountability, rather than just on numbers of bodies, which helps their brand equity and the industry in general.
3. That brokers have awakened to the threat of third-party listing aggregation websites, and seem to be trying to exercise some control of their listing inventory.
P: How do you differentiate yourself from the competition?
PO: We’re truly a unique business model in the industry. We offer brokerages the business support resources of a franchise (marketing, technology, education, lead generation) while enabling them to retain control of their respective brands and providing the freedom to run their businesses without corporate interference.
P: How do you bring ideas to life?
PO: I try to be attuned to where the voids lie and how to fill them. I listen to our affiliates and industry voices, collaborate internally in an environment where new thinking is allowed to flourish, and pull in various stakeholders as we develop the idea to get adoption and create cheerleaders prior to implementation.
P: What inspires you?
PO: What America stands for: the ability to make a difference, big ideas and big goals.
P: What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
PO: Starting a PR firm. My major had been journalism/PR, and I felt obligated to pursue that. But I quickly became bored with the nature of the work. It was a valuable experience in that I realized I needed to be on the inside of a company with a direct stake, rather than an outside consultant.
P: How do you measure success?
PO: Personally: in the quality and loyalty of my relationships. In business: being able to meet or exceed goals and attract a talented, engaged staff. In life: being happy and content and feeling as though I’m contributing.
P: What advice would you give to someone starting out in real estate today?
PO: Be committed to studying and learning more than the consumer knows. Have a mindset of contributing and adding value (solving problems, being responsive, doing what you say you’ll do). Stick to a valid business plan with goals, then put in the hours and execute the strategies/activities to achieve them. Join a strong brokerage company committed to your success. Practice the positive outlook that attracts other people who will want to work with you. Be a cheerleader for what you do, making sure everyone in your sphere of influence and new people you meet understand what you do and how you can help.
P: As an industry, how should we be thinking about education?
PO: Education is more than just training: it’s about empowering an individual to be successful. Teaching them how to fish and then showing them the water. Part of an agents job is to find a compatible culture. I would recommend to any new agent that they intern at a few different brokerages before making a longterm commitment. The broker’s job is the same but different. Culture fit is still imperative, but to foster success, a broker has to help an agent find their niche, their sweet spot in the market where they can provide exceptional value to the consumer.
Good agents provide an immense amount of expertise to the consumer: we as leaders need to do a better job of helping agents articulate that value.
P: How do you see technology shaping the business of real estate in the future?
PO: Technology is the tool. People are the priority. Technology can help you identify and reach prospects, save time, provide clients with efficiency they will appreciate, enable you to be perpetually responsive, and communicate in customized, highly effective ways.
P: What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
PO: I’d love to see a brokerage of some size (50+ agents) take the agent team concept and structure a brokerage in that way, with “rainmaker” top producers and different specialty functions supporting them. Probably salaried, but maybe not.
P: What do you read every day, and why?
PO: I scan Inman most days and stay busy reading work-related things (emails, proposals, white papers, meeting agendas, etc.), and I’m always reading either a novel (mostly Michael Connelly-style mysteries) or a business book for 20-30 minutes before I go to bed. Other things I read are more intermittent, not every day.
P: What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?
PO: Good to Great by Jim Collins is still my favorite business book, but another good, short read is The Go Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann.
I see the best agents acting as Docents to their clients, gathering and articulating contextual information for a consumer to make informed decisions.
P: What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
PO: My iPhone, for everything from GPS directions, to weather, to staying in touch, to utilities like alarms and calculators, to Words with Friends, which keeps me connected to my daughter, who’s away at school.
P: Three people we should follow on Twitter, and why?
PO: Not sure I can recommend any that I think are must-follows. Maybe Marc Davison of 1000watt Consulting (@1000wattmarc), Eric Bryn of Baird & Warner (@ericbryn), and Liz Nunan of Houlihan-Lawrence (@liznunan) for brokerage info. I also like Drudge Report (@Drudge_Report) for late-breaking news, but this really depends on your interests.
P: What Real Estate expert would you love to see us interview?
PO: Jim Weichert. He’s kind of the Howard Hughes of real estate (but don’t quote me!). He’s one of our affiliates and others in his firm are very active, but it would be interesting to hear directly from Jim in an interview.
P: When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
PO: I do that a lot. Probably last weekend, as a woman friend and I laughed at the escapades of my college junior daughter and her girlfriend, who were staying w/ me.
P: How can people connect with you?
P: Where are you located?
161 North Clark Street, 12th Floor, Chicago, IL 60601.